Donors to most environmental organizations have to foot the bill for staff and advertizing, because without these important elements, nothing could get done. At ECO-Tours of Wisconsin, we would do our work and positively transform the landscape not for pay, but for the sake of doing it. We are not very well known because we refuse to play the game the way other not-for-profit organizations do. We rarely provide press releases to the media, we certainly do not waste valuable donations on printing documents or tooting our own horn in the media and we certainly do not want to hire staff that will suck up resources without planting a single tree. We have proven over the years that we are committed to reforesting denuded areas with native forest cover and because we have specialized in this simple act since the mid-eighties, we have learned to become leaner, more efficient and more effective with the donations that we receive. Our group began with just one person, using their tax returns to buy trees wholesale. Other than the ($15 annual fee, later, under a Republican administration, raised to $35) that was required to get a tax-ID number from the state, we spent all of our income on tree seedlings. In those early years, we often planted one to two thousand trees each Spring and gathered tree seeds and planted them, expanding our reach in the Fall. Each dollar that we had available has to do the most work possible, otherwise we would quickly see our effectiveness undermined.
Getting the biggest bang for your buck involves being lightening fast, efficient and graceful. In a world of dog eat dog commercialism it may be hard to understand, but we believe in abundance and the concept of enough. Trees require enough rain, enough soil and enough protection from harsh conditions to thrive. Over the years we have come to understand from the ground up, what kind of conditions support life and what sorts of decisions make it untenable. We have had donors who believe that we are a not-for-profit landscaping service, but that misses the mark for us. Most landscapers ask, "What kind of tree do you want in the middle of the front yard and do you want columnar or globe bushes around the foundation of your home?" We ask landowners, "Where will you allow forest to regenerate?" We never guarantee trees will survive, as many landscapers do, but we only plant species that will have a reasonable chance of thriving where we plant them and since we never charge for our work, we can invest the time required to make sound plans for planting and work with the goal of improving environmental quality rather than establishing a series of exotic artifacts that do not belong in the native landscape. Making the most of what we have is a microcosmic reflection of what the trees we plant do each and every day. There are plenty of examples of how not to go about reforesting an area, but in our efforts we are finding ways to make the process work.
Through scientific investigation, we have learned that mature temperate forests, on average, are made up of around three hundred mature trees per acre (.4 hectare). This gives us a vague idea about what a forest is, but little direction on how to get there. We could say that if it costs about ten dollars per tree, reforesting an acre would cost about $3,000, but that has two negative effects. For one, most people cannot afford to think about spending three thousand dollars on trees, especially since most land for sale is three thousand dollars per acre or more just to purchase! Another dis-incentive is to think that a forest is merely an amalgamation of trees. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forests are a complex mix of individual trees, moisture, soils, microbes and the web of life that inhabits them. Mature forests may only have a few hundred individual trees living on them, but the soils are made up of countless thousands of dead trees that gave their lives so that others might live.
One may ask, "What are the benefits?" of donating to ECO-Tours of Wisconsin. This is the most amazing part. There are literally thousands of benefits that come from planting a single tree. When the weather is cold, trees act as giant wind reducing solar collectors. Friends who fly during the winter are always amazed that forests appear black from the sky but open fields turn white when the snow flies. When the weather is hot, trees temper the desiccating effects of the sun and wind, humidifying and cooling vast areas. Years ago, I heard the maxim, "We all live downstream". The tree planting that we participate in has transformed entire watersheds. The thousands of trees and millions of tree seeds reduce flooding, wind erosion, sterilization of the soil surface by ultraviolet light, and provide habitat for billions of soil organisms, whose entire life cycle helps to conserve soil, water and provide habitat for generations of life in the future. Donations to support our work are truly a gift that will keep on giving, long after we are gone. It is difficult to put a price, or a value on the feelings that come with improving the quality of the environment, but for those who enjoy the shade of the trees that we have planted, or for the ones who see a bird alight on the branch of a recently planted seedling, there can be no denying, the world has been made a bit better because of our passing this way. In our tiny corner of the planet and in this miniscule part of our universe, there will be the possibility of life, where it had not been possible before.
We may never understand the value of a flood averted or the creation of oxygen that the trees we plant provide. It may forever be incalculable, the priceless rewards that come from allowing nature to flourish. It is amazing that something as simple as planting a tree can have such a profound effect on future generations. Knowing that we are part of a solution to such a wide array of problems has rewards beyond those that can be put into words. Bringing hope to the hopeless, shelter to the exposed and life to the lifeless is pretty heady stuff and through our efforts, your dollars can be put to use in ways that leave the entire planet just a little better than we have received it from previous generations. We will continue to plant native trees and offer to plant trees in even greater numbers with the help of your donations. The tree that falls in the forest may not make a sound if we are not there to "hear" it, but when it goes down, it must sigh a little, knowing that it will feed the next generation of life. Just as the raspberry builds soils that future forests will grow upon, our efforts are meant to build a foundation for future generations to thrive upon. May your days be filled with grace, beauty, blessings and understanding. Namaste'. A recent story of our activities